Larry Hirschhorn '80 finds success as a theatre producer

When Larry Hirshhorn ’80 is asked his opinion of Ithaca College’s theatre students, he doesn’t beat around the bush.

“I am absolutely blown away by what they’re doing,” he says. “I don’t know if they’re more talented than we were — some are, definitely — but they’re so much more savvy than we were.”

Hirschhorn has an eye for these things. A sought-after producer, he has credits on Broadway, off Broadway, in London’s West End, and on national tours. He’s won three Tony Awards and five Drama Desk Awards for shows including A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder, Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike, and the 2009 revival of Hair. During his 30-year career, he’s rubbed elbows with some big-time names: Bradley Cooper, James Earl Jones, Nathan Lane, Angela Lansbury, John Laroquette, Bebe Neuwirth, and Vanessa Redgrave. 

He started out in the business as an actor in New York City, but he wasn’t able to make a living solely on his craft. So he traveled a lot for work and took odd jobs like dog walking and bartending. He switched gears after a realization hit him when he was working a dinner theatre in Florida, and his wife — about a thousand miles away in New York City and pregnant with their first child — was miserable with morning sickness.

“You know, this is not right,” Hirschhorn says he remembers thinking. He decided to stay closer to home, and, as he succinctly sums it up, “that was basically the end of my acting career.”

Hirschhorn went back to school. And between changing diapers and bartending, he earned a master’s degree from New York University in educational theatre. During his time at NYU, he met someone who told him about a disused theatre, one where Hirschhorn could build an educational theatre company. He did, and the company made a splash right from the get-go, drawing tremendous attention after scoring a rave review in the New York Times for its first production: The Portable Pioneer and Prairie Show.

“I was hooked,” Hirschhorn says. “Literally, the who’s who of American theatre came to see this show.”

Hirschhorn remained true to the theatre’s educational mission. He produced a lot of biographies, including ones on Bessie Smith, Alberta Hunter, Charles Lindberg, and Ty Cobb — the company’s biggest success and the one that catapulted Hirschhorn’s career.

There’s an interesting parallel at play between the rise of Hirschhorn’s prominence as a producer and what he did at Ithaca College. He tells a story about how, as a student, he did not get cast for the part he wanted. So, with the full support of the theatre department and with a few friends, he struck out on his own. He found a space to perform, secured the rights to a production, and put on a children’s theatre show over the course of six weekends.

“I was always trying to make things happen,” Hirschhorn says. “Ithaca College prepared me in such a wonderful way to be open to opportunities.”

Hirschhorn stays involved with IC. He co-chaired the fundraising drive for the 2009 renovation of Dillingham Center and established a free library there for theatre students to use. He’s a frequent participant at the theatre department’s field studies week in New York City, which sees IC students travel to the Big Apple to meet with theatre alumni, and he offers his assistance to graduates as they launch their careers. To these last two groups, Hirschhorn offers a bit of advice.

“If you just sit around waiting for things to happen, it’s not going to,” he says. “You have to make it happen and create your own luck.”